Springtime: Time to Transform
by Gloria DeGaetano
The energy of springtime is the energy of movement. When I think of transforming self or helping to transform declining conditions on our planet, I think of forward movement—one small step at a time, usually. The pace we go doesn't matter as much as the "how" we do what we are moved to do. For it is in the "how" that we catalyze good in our everyday lives for the people we touch. The ripple effect moves out from there. The pace at which it moves out can often astound when the "how" is in alignment with three key qualities.
These qualities define characteristics of internal states that shepherd our constructive actions, imbuing them with far-reaching results, making the good we do more sustainable. Here is a thumb-nail synthesis of each quality. By focusing on them and inviting them to grow within us, we bring more light to ourselves and to our world.
In a thought-provoking article titled, "Awakening to the Highest Reaches of Integrity," in the Vision in Action Journal, Yasuhiko Genku Kimura defines "integrity" on three levels:
"Integrity means being true to one's principles, one's word, and one's self, and true integrity involves the total accord between these three levels of being true. People who can sustain their commitment are those who say, "I am committed to making X happen," and then follow through with the necessary stages of action that ensure that X happens. Such people have integrity. They sustain their commitment to the end. God is reported to have said, "Let there be light," and immediately there was light. In the case of humans, it takes time for commitment to unfold, but the principle is the same. For example, we say, ‘Let there be peace on earth.' If the majority of us have true integrity, with which we are prepared to take sustained action, peace will surely prevail on earth."
Rather than thinking of integrity as a vehicle that propels the action steps, Kimura views integrity as a demonstration of the commitment to take the action in the first place. His words remind us of the incredible responsibility we have to effect long-term change by attending to our resolve and not wavering when we feel discouraged or thwarted. I have discussed integrity in my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, emphasizing how important it is to "walk our talk" as parents and providing comfort (I hope!) and practical ideas for the incredible challenge it is to do just that in our media age. The long-term joys of our children depend on our present-day willingness to stay in our integrity with every decision we make, no matter how seemingly small the decision.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Teaching despair is the greatest of sins." Ouch! I had worried over that admonishment many times, having spent the better portion of my career outlining the negative, and despairing, consequences of overuse and misuse of screen technology. I finally realized that teaching about the problem wasn't necessarily teaching people to despair. Although the result of troubling information can be feelings of despair, we can't stay silent because of it. I do think it critically important to accurately define our challenges, or we can't be efficient in addressing them pro-actively. Despair is one option, out of many.
Hope is another option. But, it too, has its challenges. Many "hopeful movements" currently taking place in positive psychology or appreciative inquiry can be troublesome for their pollyannish nature. Glossing over problems can feel as despairing as hearing about them. So what kind of hope is needed to affect deep change on both individual and societal levels?
I think of this kind of hope as "connected hope." Hope without authentic relationship is an impotent hope. In his seminal book, The Psychology of Hope, C.R. Synder points out that hope "is a mindset that pays attention to people." He quotes Douglas Heath's conclusion after studying people over decades, "To grow, we must be in an alive relationship with others, whether as workers, partners, parents, or friends." Alive relationships are re-vitalizing. They bring a mirror to support our identity, a landing for burdens, and a door to open new possibilities. Right now I am highly anticipating two days away at a local retreat setting with a good friend. We will have time to catch up with each other uninterrupted by daily demands, relaxing and sharing our current triumphs and challenges. I will come away with more hope. Women have known this salve for centuries.
Connected hope is not a luxury in a world getting more and more complicated by the minute. It is a necessity. Grounded in what people need to thrive, connected hope can shed more light on our own creativity and capacities—get us to recognize that we just might be able to do more and be more than we ever thought possible. And help our friends do the same. What could be more powerful to propel long-term, positive change?
In my early teens I came across the The Little Prince and one line captured me and still hasn't let me go: "It is only with the heart that one sees clearly."
Seeing clearly seems the major imperative of our times. Yet, seeing with the heart means a measure of maturity, containment, and wisdom that can feel out of reach. Opening ourselves to compassion and allowing that mighty equalizer to enter into our deepest regions cuts down our pomp and smoothes our edges. It deepens alive relationship and allows for more deepening.
It should give us pause to realize the thick threads among hope, relationship, and compassion. Our schools are in decline because a lack of all of these. Emphasizing quantitative data, treating our children like objects, teachers like machines, schools base funding on illusionary numbers. I have talked with hundreds of teachers, parents, administrators, and superintendents who decry the current emphasis on testing. They know it is not good pedagogy, not good for the children, and certainly, not useful in any sense of that word. Yet, they shrug their shoulders, saying, "When they figure out something better to base their funding on, we can change the situation." Awash in hopelessness, the people who are in the position to change the situation cannot connect to their compassion for the children to obtain the will to do so.
In his seminal book, Stealing Innocence: Corporate Culture's War on Children, Henry A. Giroux put it this way, "As public schools are abandoned or surrender to the dictates of the market, children increasingly find themselves isolated and removed from the discourses of community and compassion…at the same time, children are increasingly subjected to social and economic forces that exploit them through the dynamics of sexualization, commodification, and commercialism."
Integrity, hope, and compassion form a foundation tri-pod on which we can re-unite those "discourses of community and compassion." These three qualities go a long way to effect positive change. What would happen if we attended more rigorously to each of them in our daily ho-hum lives? Shall we try it and find out?
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